My heart stuttered, and my voice faltered. I hadn’t even thought about what Titania might do to her helpless captives if she was pissed off at me but couldn’t hurt me. Anger had stolen some of my common sense, and if Arawn hadn’t spoken up, I might not have recognized the threat until too late.
I recovered my composure quickly, before the magic could seep away. My hum was pretty tuneless, but it was enough to keep the magic swirling around me.
“Give us all safe passage back to Avalon,” I said. “Me, and my father, and Ethan, and Keane, and Kimber, and Finn. And Elizabeth!” The last was an unexpected addition, but hell, after what I’d put her through, I figured I might as well include her. “You do that, and I’ll accept the geis never to attack anyone of the Seelie Court with my magic unless they attack me first.”
Titania dropped back into her seat. She’d put on her courtly mask again, her emotions hidden beneath the surface, but I knew she was still seething. She tapped her fingers on the arm of her chair as she thought. I kept humming, though it was hard to keep it up when the magic made the air so thin.
Titania seemed to think about it forever before she finally came to a decision. She made one more try to recruit me, though it seemed a bit halfhearted.
“If you swear allegiance to the Seelie Court, it will not only make peace between you and my people, it will also protect you from my counterpart of the Unseelie Court. Mab has wanted to eliminate you from the first moment she learned of your existence, but she would not dare to act against a member of my Court.”
“I bet if she knew what I could do, she wouldn’t be so hot to make an enemy of me,” I countered. Arawn laughed at that, though Titania looked very much unamused. “So do we have a deal, or don’t we?”
“You may not take Elizabeth,” Titania said. “She is my kinswoman, and therefore mine to protect.”
“You mean control.”
“You may not have her,” she repeated. “I will grant safe passage for you and the others, but she remains here with me.”
I’d have liked to have helped Elizabeth, but I could tell Titania wouldn’t budge. Plus, she was right. Elizabeth was her granddaughter, and I was just going to have to hope she’d take better care of her than Henry had.
I shivered, wondering if I had thought of everything, whether I’d left any kind of devastating loophole open that would get me or the others hurt. But I couldn’t think of anything, and the constant press of the magic was starting to make my vision go blurry around the edges.
“I guess we have a deal then,” I said, standing up and holding my hand out for her to shake.
She looked at my hand like it was a dog turd and she didn’t want to touch it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Arawn finally rise from his chair. He pulled a knife out of his boot and handed it hilt-first to Titania.
“Don’t get jumpy,” he told me when I took a hasty step away. “The deal must be sealed with blood.” He grinned at me. “I don’t think either one of you would like to seal it with a kiss.”
Oh, hell no! When I’d made my deal with Arawn, we’d sealed it with a kiss and the magic had made me so out of control I’d practically been ready to tear my clothes off and do him on the spot. I was so not going there with Titania, even though Arawn had warned me that a deal sealed in blood involved a fair amount of pain.
I finally stopped humming, because I was going to pass out if I didn’t. I half-expected Titania to plunge the Erlking’s knife into my chest, but instead she grabbed my wrist in a bone-crushing grip and then slashed my palm.
The pain was a shock to my system, and I let out a strangled cry that wasn’t quite a scream. She had cut me so deep I could see a hint of bone, and I couldn’t suppress the tears that sprang to my eyes. She made a much shallower cut to her own palm, then pressed our bleeding wounds together as magic slammed into us both.
This time, I did scream. I’d thought the wound hurt before the magic enhanced it. It was all I could do to stay conscious while Titania repeated the terms of our deal. Even though her wound wasn’t as deep, she had to be hurting, too, but you couldn’t tell by her face or voice. She was once again the cool, emotionless Queen of Faerie, while I was sobbing like a little girl.
Somehow, I managed to stammer out my own part of the agreement before my vision went black and the pain abruptly stopped.
I woke up lying flat on my back on the grassy floor, my head pillowed in Arawn’s lap. At first, I was groggy enough not to be quite sure what was going on, but when my mind cleared, I hastily sat up.
Too hastily, my swimming head told me, and I had to close my eyes until the world steadied around me and I didn’t feel quite so much like barfing.
When I opened my eyes again, I saw Arawn had moved away and was now sitting with his back propped against the base of one of the chairs, one long leg stretched out in front of him, the other bent. He was watching me, but he didn’t say anything, for which I was grateful. I needed a little time to gather my wits before I would be capable of conversation.
I shuddered as I remembered why I had been lying unconscious on the floor. There was a lot of blood on my pants, though whether from the bullet wound or the slice in my palm, I wasn’t sure. I turned my hand over and looked at my palm, but someone—either Titania, or more likely Arawn—had healed the bone-deep cut until there was nothing left of it but a thin red line.
“All your wounds are healed,” Arawn said quietly, like he was trying not to startle a frightened animal.